Bauer’s interest in art began at an early age. He left home in 1905, without the support of his family, and enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts, Berlin-Charlottenburg. Losing interest in academic training, he left school and supported himself by drawing political cartoons and caricatures that he sold to magazines and newspapers. The small income he earned in this fashion allowed him to pursue his own art. He experimented with both representational and nonrepresentational modes of expression, including Impressionism and Expressionism. In 1915 he joined Der Sturm, a circle of avant-garde artists such as Wassily Kandinsky who were affiliated with Herwarth Walden’s Galerie Der Sturm. Bauer began exhibiting frequently with them, teaching in Walden’s Sturmschule and writing for his magazine. It was at that gallery in 1916 that Bauer met Hilla Rebay, a German baroness and artist. Rebay immediately became the greatest champion of his work, and the two began a nearly three-decade-long on-and-off relationship.
When Bauer arrived in the U.S. in 1939, he joined Rebay in her home in Greens Farms, Connecticut. After several months Guggenheim offered him a mansion near the ocean in Deal, New Jersey, a car, a maid, and a yearly stipend; in exchange Guggenheim would have ownership over those works already in his possession and of all works Bauer would create during the rest of his life. Speaking very little English and under pressure from Rebay to sign the contract, Bauer misunderstood many of its terms. Soon after signing it, when he had time to translate the contract in detail, Bauer realized that he had signed away his life’s work and would not actually own any of the luxuries that Guggenheim was providing for him. In anger, Bauer backed out of the agreement by never painting or drawing again (though, according to at least one source, a sizeable trove of drawings and paintings was found in his house after his death).